Research reveals major stressors for women undergoing IVF

eyesFor years now academic researchers have been debating whether stress causes IVF failure. The majority agree there is a correlation between stress and IVF failure but that stress does not necessarily cause IVF failure. All research conducted to that time relied on participants answering survey questions.

The tables turned in 2014 when a US research team used a far more effective approach to test the effects of stress on women trying to become pregnant naturally. They laboratory tested stress hormones in saliva, and concluded that stress definitely can cause difficulty in becoming pregnant and a longer time to pregnancy for women seeking to become pregnant naturally.

It’s not too unreasonable a stretch to extend the conclusion to stress potentially causing IVF failure as well.

The debate will no doubt continue. However, women who are having difficulty becoming pregnant using IVF don’t care all that much about scientific debate – they just want to know what will work and help them become pregnant.

After studying scientific research literature for some time, I decided to run a pilot programme that addressed stress that could affect the chances of pregnancy and which could occur at five stages across an IVF cycle.

The study was successful with the majority of women becoming pregnant within three additional cycles of IVF (most on their next cycle). Some women who were attempting to get pregnant naturally also achieved their goal.

After the pilot, I conducted a formal ethics controlled university supervised qualitative research study of eight of the more difficult cases of women who became pregnant using my programme, IVF-Assist – with IVF, and that study revealed that the main stress for the women involved came from clearly identifiable sources.

Purpose of Post

gold-hand-1The purpose of this blog post is to share with you those causes of stress to help you identify and manage them in your life. If you’re trying to become pregnant using IVF but experiencing failure, you might find my IVF-Assist programme – which uses exactly the same techniques as I used with the women on my clinic study – to be of great help. You can access that programme at

If you’re having difficulty becoming pregnant naturally, you might benefit from my Fertility-Assist programme, which you can find at

Major causes of stress that could impact your IVF success

Stress from intensely personal aspects of experience.

By far the powerful factor in this category was stress from maternal drive. All participants in my research raised this factor and stated that failure to satisfy that drive was extremely stressful.

One woman said that,

“The drive to have a baby is just inordinately strong. It’s clear and absolute… women will do absolutely anything to get that child.”

Another said,

“I’ve wanted to be pregnant ever since I was a little girl; I want to be a mum. I want the experience of being pregnant. Friends say “you’ll curse and stuff. I think I won’t – I’ve waited so long.”

Yet another reflected,

“You’re looking at stress – devastating, you get to the point where you’re saying, “What’s going to hurt more, another failed cycle, or losing the dream?”

No doubt many readers can easily empathise with their feelings.

The next stress factor in this category was the feeling of loss of, and/or need to regain control.

Most participants felt a lack of control between embryo transfer and pregnancy test, but for some the sense of having to comply with imposed medical schedules etc., simply became overwhelming. One woman expressed it as follows:

“All this is happening TO me (emphasised) and I don’t get any part of it. I’m just the body they’re putting the embryo into. They’re telling you, this is what you’ve got to take; this is when you’ve got to take it. I’m someone who likes to have a little control in my life, so I found that stressful.”

Some women found the issue of remaining embryos to be very stressful, for differing reasons.

For example, for one woman, the stress arose from concern about embryo health.

“I wanted to have all those embryos. They are my children and I want them. It’s complete and utter insanity! None of them thawed properly and I was….. absolutely devastated. I cried for 3 days.”

For another, the stress arose more from a moral dilemma. She told me,

“I was really conflicted – at the end of my tether. I decided to put two back but it was still hard. Being a slightly pro-life person, I couldn’t bring myself to visualise one not being there – that would mean not having hope for it. So that was a struggle.”

Of course, much stress arose from the more mundane sources such as everyday life and work.

ivf post imageAn interesting factor was how IVF cycle-related stress impacted on work and home life, and the effect on those gave rise to more stress that was taken into the work place, feeding an ever increasing vicious cycle of stress.

One woman described the experience well, while managing to maintain her sense of humour,

“I was like – I’m over it; sick of the mood swings, every step things going wrong. I’m always waiting, my life is ruled by it. My husband was like, ‘do something with her; fix her’ (laughs).”

Most readers would understand that research participants found the IVF process itself vey stressful.

The comments of two study participants provide some insight into the level of that stress.

“The whole IVF process is quite a sin… you can really go to the absolute upper limit irrationality”
“I see women in the street with babies and I hate them; and I want to go and slap them – just really angry…. Depressive, extremely stressful!”

Finance pressure, especially for women who’d experienced multiple IVF failures, was a major source of stress as well.

One participant had spent $70,000 of her own money on IVF. Fortunately, she fell pregnant and delivered a healthy child on her first cycle using the IVF-Assist programme.

Another explained how she needed to rely on family support to finance her continuing IVF expenses.

All participants who had experienced multiple IVF failures expressed concern with the expense of continuing with IVF, but that maternal drive factor mentioned earlier herein tended to overcome the financial obstacles. OF course, that is not to say those financial obstacles were not stressful. They most certainly were.

Women who’d experienced previous miscarriages approached future IVF cycles with a level of concern about a repeat occurrence they found very stressful

And in all cases, that stress did not subside until their pregnancy progressed well beyond the time of their previous miscarriages.

Miscarriage can be extremely upsetting for any woman, but for someone who has had difficulty getting pregnant, and especially if that involved the stress and expense of several IVF failures, a miscarriage can be quite devastating.

None of the research participants who had experienced miscarriage were able to relax and enjoy their pregnancy until well after the time into this pregnancy that corresponded with the time of their previous miscarriage.

gold-hand-2The following case study synopsis from my research gives some insight into the distress experienced by women who have experienced the loss/failure of a pregnancy.

Before she became involved with my programme, one woman experienced a still-birth at 20 weeks after becoming pregnant using IVF. When she became pregnant again (using IVF-Assist in concert with her IVF programme after several previous failures using IVF alone) she could not relax at all until well into the second half of her pregnancy. Even then, she told none of her friends about her pregnancy, and her mother was the only family member who knew she was pregnant until after her baby was born. Such was the level of her concern about losing another pregnancy and having to explain it to friends and family. One can almost feel her pain in reading this simple overview of her case. I can assure you that to hear her entire story during the research was a mix of great sorrow at her previous loss and great joy at her successful delivery following use of IVF-Assist while undergoing her IVF programme

Age was a significant stressor for several women on the study

There is substantial evidence in the researched academic literature that shows concerns about IVF success after the age of 40 are, for the most part, justified. Having said that, three women, of ages 39, 42 and 43 respectively, all became pregnant on their first IVF cycle using the IVF-Assist programme and all delivered healthy babies.

Other significant stressors …

Study participants reported that these included:

  • pressure from friends and family to get pregnant – especially in certain culture contexts
  • pressure from integrating work commitments with IVF appointments, and
  • major life experiences either to self or members of family (e.g. grieving over the recent death of a close relative or a parent being diagnosed with a serious illness)
  • It goes without saying that many other stress-inducing factors were identified during my research. However, those above are the ones most mentioned by research participants.

    All research participants stated that the IVF-Assist programme was of great help to them in becoming pregnant and remaining calm and in control of stress throughout their pregnancies. You can learn more about the programme at

    If you are working on becoming pregnant naturally, I have prepared a separate programme for you from the principles that proved successful in the IVF related programme. You can learn more about that programme – I call it Fertility Assist – at

    So, what is the programme these women used to get beyond IVF failure?

    My clinic experience in the area of assisting women facing fertility challenges, together with my research work, led me to formulate programmes to address the stress that I believe operates across five phases of a woman’s natural or IVF fertility cycle, and reduces her prospects of pregnancy. That programme, IVF-Assist, was the basis of my successful clinic study and follow-up qualitative research study. It’s sister programme called, Fertility-Assist, is a version of the IVF-Assist programme adjusted to better suit the different aspects of the phases of a woman’s natural fertility cycle.

    Both these programmes have been structured to address stress from various causes across a woman’s fertility cycle in order to enhance her chances of becoming pregnant – and also to help women who’ve experienced difficulty getting pregnant to remain relaxed and calm during an often overlooked period of potential stress, the first three months of their pregnancy.

    If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via the web site. In the meantime I look forward to bringing you another post in the not too distant future.

    The ART of pregnancy

    The term for the collective procedures to assist women (having difficulty getting pregnant) to conceive is Assisted Reproductive Technologies, or ART for short.

    When Griffiths University Student and talented final year art student, Olivia Heath, approached me with a request for an internship, I was a little confused. At first, I could not see how I could place her. I remember thinking, ‘My clinic practice has nothing to do with art.’

    It didn’t take long for me to realise that, while my practice had nothing to do with art (apart from the fact I have a nice painting on the office wall) it does have a lot to do with ART (as defined above). I was also motivated to assist Olivia because, as a professor at a different university, I know how difficult it can be for students to get an internship, despite the fact that theses can make all the difference in a graduate getting a job later.

    The connection seemed too strong to overlook, so Olivia and I met at a tea lounge and brainstormed ideas that led to her serving her internship programme with my office.

    The concept development was relatively simple, and the enjoyment from its execution has been immense. I told Olivia about the IVF-Assist programme and how it worked, and suggested that she prepare pieces of art to illustrate 3-4 posts for the launch of my IVF-Assist blog.

    Olivia needed more guidance, so I asked that her work included abstract references to concepts such as natural flow, fertility, nature, femininity, stress, and the like. Also, we agreed the art should focus on aspects of the conscious or unconscious behaviour of a woman striving to conceive.
    Her responses included abstract pieces that fit the brief precisely. The images of her art you see with this post are of multiple eyes painted on to the tummy of one of her friends. Those eyes represent the intense and often stressful focus of women undergoing IVF on things that might not be ‘working properly’ in their reproductive system. Two of the eyes, in positions relative to the ovaries inside, are green, representing the tendency of some women having difficulty conceiving to feel envy towards other women who are either new mums or are pregnant.

    There is also an image of a hand against a strongly geometric part of the art (which is positioned to the left of the abstract work) suggesting a hope for the structure of the IVF process (and whatever else she is doing to become pregnant) trying to control the abstract forces at work. The gold colour of the geometric component and hand emphasises the value to the woman of that control being successful.

    You can see more of Olivia’s work at

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